In the Fall of 2017, I was invited into the ShoutOut! JMU faculty cohort by a dear colleague, one that I also began my JMU journey alongside of in the Fall of 2015. I didn’t know much of what I was getting myself into — co-facilitating an unpaid, overload course, but I knew that I cared about the issues that the blog spoke to and I wanted to be a part of that conversation.
I’ll never forget sitting in a circle late one weeknight as each of us took turns sharing our feminist anthems. Some of the usual suspects popped up, Ani DiFranco’s Untouchable Face being one classic. Praying by Ke$ha emerged as a new feminist ballad for the #MeToo moment unfurling around us. Most memorable for me was my introduction to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow — shared by a student I taught previously when she was a freshman and much more reserved than this bold, unapologetic @wokewarrior sitting alongside me just then.
Every semester since that first blush with ShoutOut, I have made a point of continuing this feminist anthem precedent, using our first day of class to build a collaborative playlist to set the tone for the semester (and to play during our writer’s workshops!). When I listen back on each of these playlists, I can’t help but to be reminded of the faces that filled the classroom, the Newsrooms that went sideways, the moments when none of us knew how to use WordPress (thank you JMU libraries for always saving our tush!), and the sense of relief we felt coming into that classroom each week.
While those days of ShoutOut! were far more student-led, the Spring of 2019 brought the opportunity to teach the class in its first iteration as a paid course offering. This monumental moment came after years of founding faculty teaching this course unpaid as an overload, in the efforts to establish its value to students and our campus overall. Those unpaid labors paid off, and I was privileged to teach the first semester of the course in this capacity.
With dedicated time to pour into ShoutOut, the Spring of 2019 brought a few big milestones for me as both a feminist and a liberatory educator. In January, we were able to bring nearly 40 students from across the university to the Women’s March on Washington. I can still picture walking through the clubhouse in Madison Union, going from table to table to see the signs folx attending the march were creating. The messages I saw demanded something new of the predominantly second-wave feminism I had grown up with: the future is not just female — it is intersectional, trans-inclusive, latinx, and so much more — else it won’t be feminism at all.
In the midst of an era where we watched as a qualified and capable woman won the popular vote but lost the presidential election to a known misogynist and sexual predator, where we watched as Muslim travelers were denied entry to the United States, where we watched as rights for Trans folx were systematically rolled back — the words and energies of every student in that room gave me tremendous hope that we would survive this time and come out stronger for it.
And then the march came. We loaded onto a university bus too early in the morning, decked out in pink hats of all shades with hand warmers and snacks provided by another loving ShoutOut faculty advisor, and a bus driver who had attended the 2016 march with his wife the previous January. The excitement on the bus was palpable and when we arrived our little JMU bubble popped into the flourish of humans of all kinds, creeds, ages, and colors gathered in Freedom Plaza.
The march wasn’t perfect. These discreet civic actions rarely are — because they are coordinated by imperfect human beings, each of us laden with our own implicit biases — and yet, I left encouraged and invigorated by the intersectionality I saw represented at the march. With this spirit, our Spring 2019 bloggers kept writing and reflecting and sense-making on the experience and the broader implications of this moment in feminist history.
Fast forward to the Spring of 2020, when we had the opportunity to celebrate a decade of feminist blogging on JMU’s campus. In March, we “Marched Forth” into the next decade of student activism and advocacy on JMU’s campus with an all-star ShoutOut alumni panel, followed by a night of incredible performances at our annual V-DAY event. Although I didn’t imagine I would top the high of attending my first women’s march with students on either side of me, this 10 year celebration might have.
And then, suddenly, I (along with every other educator basically everywhere) found myself transitioning an in-person class to a fully-online operation in a matter of a week’s time. While much of what we do in ShoutOut has always prevailed in the digital sphere (hello, she is a blog!), our dialogue and discussions centered so much on the intimacy afforded by an in-person classroom environment, and I shuddered to think of what the channel-lean modality might do to dismantle those efforts.
But as we know of strong and resilient womxn of all genres, in situations like these, we tend to persist, nevertheless. And persist, we did. The blog posts that emerged during that initial COVID moment have helped to archive a really complex and ambiguous time in the blog’s history, on JMU’s campus, and in our world. I will always be grateful to the cohort of the Spring 2020 semester for learning alongside of me how to pivot and find ways to make our collective survive in a fully digital space.
Which brings us to now, as we near the end of 2020 — a year that has felt unprecedented and insidious, but has continued to yield opportunities for critical reflection and intensely meaningful writing from our Fall 2020 collective of bloggers. I have never laughed so much in a Zoom meeting as I have with this cohort. Each week, I meet them as the mess that I am, and they show up with equal authenticity and a vibrancy and energy that I could never match on my own — and we’re making it work. As I write this, I know that the last few weeks in this semester will have brought a handful more blog posts, some Senior goodbyes– and so I’d like to share one more final farewell, if I may…
This is my last semester teaching at JMU. I’ll be the first to acknowledge how wholly surreal it feels to type that sentence. Somehow, 6 years ago, I arrived here, found my way into this ShoutOut community — and the rest has been history. Even as I look toward a new chapter (teaching at a community college in Wisconsin, y’all! Operation let’s get this Wisconsinite back to the Midwest is in motion), I can’t help but to feel an intense sadness at the end of what has been the most formative experience in my life as an educator so far.
Every semester I was afforded the opportunity to teach ShoutOut here at JMU has been the highlight of my days, and that is due in large part (if not entirely) to each of you: the bloggers, the collective, the current (and past and future) cohorts of ShoutOut JMU. I am not trying to eulogize my time here (okay, maybe I am…) — but if I could provide any call to action to future ShoutOut writers — I would do it in the form of 3 key quotations:
1. “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”― Dolly Parton
2. “Real radicalism implores us to tell the whole ugly truth, even when it is inconvenient.”― Brittney Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
3. “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”― Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”
I think I had to close with the words of these feminist giants because at the end of the day that’s what our blog itself is built on. Thanks for the memories, ShoutOut! JMU. I rise up and call myself blessed to have been a part of your stories, to have been a part of this collective, to have been one voice in a chorus of many shouting out about the things that matter. Louder now!
Sarah Jean Taylor Mayhak